Each footstep down the winding stairs is part of a choreographed dance. I’ve memorized every board and nail that creaks under my weight. The iron balcony veiled by tropical plants makes my Vieux Carré apartment a gem. Only drawback…the landlady is a nosey bitch.
Forsaking the refuge of shade from the galleries, I walk down the middle of the narrow street, cloaking myself in vicious sunlight. At the moment of dusk, my escape will become dangerous, if not impossible. If they won’t change me, what choice do I have? The monsters prowl this labyrinth at night, flaunting their power and toying with me like a lab rat on the wheel to oblivion.
The beat up convertible is parked close to where I left it. Fishing the key from under the seat, I pump the gas and the engine turns over. Fuel gauge is a little lower that I remember. In spite of the heat, driving with the top down is the perfect disguise.
Damn seat belt is still jammed and useless.
Long after I make the final turn out of the cramped neighborhoods, I allow my lungs their first full breath. The brackish air tastes of rusty mud and angry fish. All that remains between me and freedom is the gauntlet of an old bridge over a sea, masquerading as a lake. The pedal under my foot sinks to the floor and the little jalopy leaps into the fading light. Tapping my finger on the glowing screen of my phone, I glance at the GPS, then glue my eyes back to the rickety road and aim for the dotted line.
Grim shadows loom in the dangling mirror. Adjusting the wobbly reflection does nothing to make me feel safer from clouds that roil behind me like a tsunami of evil. I toss my phone in the back seat and slam both feet on the gas pedal until the sign comes into view.
Liberty, salvation, the threshold of a new life.
New Orleans City Limits
The figure appears in front of me, out of thin air. No fog, no flash…just a man in the road where there was none a second ago. Before I can hit the brakes, the car flips through the air as if thrown by the hand of Zeus. Steel collapses into a death cage around me, right before the car careens through the guardrail. Instead of plunging into the dark water, my face collides with crumbling pavement.
Nausea from the metallic taste in my throat hits right before the burn of road rash ignites every inch of my body. I force my eyes open to find a phantom standing over me.
The man rakes one hand through his jet black hair. “Think you’d get away so easily?”
“Aren’t you?” Blood gurgles from my mouth, spilling into a puddle under my chin. “The doctor from—”
“Chief of staff at the trauma center where you work.” He answers.
“So, you can save me.”
“Oh, I will.” The doctor rubs the salt and pepper of his goatee. “And grant you what you’ve been searching for.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“The magic. If you still desire it.”
“It’s been the ultimate tease…all this time. It was either leave town or go insane.”
The doctor unsnaps his cufflinks. “That’s part of the test, young lady.”
“How did you find me?” Through an explosion of searing pain, I turn onto my back and stare at the moon’s silver ring. “I took every precaution.”
“Look at yourself.”
Blinking back tears, I lift mangled hands in front of my face. Flecks of color sparkle through blood and grime.
Dr. Monster rolls up his sleeves. “The glitter of our city is all over you.”
In case you missed the beginning,
The Grand Plan
The afternoon alarm rattles the roots of my teeth. I flail for my phone to end the noise, but throwing it across the room isn’t an option. Without that little GPS, the escape plan doesn’t have a prayer of success. My hand brushes across a cut above my eye…the dawn of an ugly scar. Somehow, I managed to fight off last nights’ attacker, but it was the last straw.
The final sign—time to move on.
Years ago, I arrived in the Crescent City for a long weekend. Seduced by a thinly veiled promise of magic, I never left. The quest for a spell to make me like the ancient guardians, immune, immortal, forever beautiful…remains unfulfilled.
Tonight’s the night. It’s been lurking on the horizon. Despite every cell in my body screaming in protest, I’m breaking off this love affair with a city that’s been nothing but pain and heartbreak. The heat and the storms are scary enough. Now, even the monsters need to watch their backs on the street.
The clock ticking in my stuffy apartment echoes the hammering pulse in my ears. One peek through the crooked shutters reveals heat rising from the cobbled streets like roiling fog. I twist damp strands of hair and pin them high off my neck.
Get out now, leave everything behind.
My eyes scan the apartment and land on a mahogany armoire with dangling doors. A flash of color from the top shelf sends me rummaging for jewelry. Natural clumsiness knocks everything else down on my head. Carrying stuff could drag me down, but leaving these masks is a crime. Each one is a piece of local art bought for a specific holiday. Jammed in the back, the blue mask calls my name. I climb over the pile of costumes to grab sapphire beads and tassels.
Just this one…to remember it all, and hold on to the fringe of my shattered dreams.
To be continued…